Every city has its distinct culture that we learn to live in whether we grow up there or moved later in life. Similarly, every city has a unique ecology of employment that every denizen navigates to create a successful career. A common career counselling topic in Adelaide, with its distinctive private sector ecology, is how to choose a career structure that provides a realistic guide what you want to achieve within its limitations and opportunities.
A good example of the career structures can be seen watching contemporary films like La La Land. It captures the central career dilemmas of people looking to realise an idea of a good life that entails the moral ideal of authenticity. The film charts the relationship and career trajectory of musician Seb and actor Mia. It is set in Tinsel Town – the city of light – and its biggest corporate businesses, the studios, are offstage characters.
Common career structures
To many people wanting a good life that provides a sense of fulfillment, there are three ways to structure a career in an era when organisations generally operate from the assumption they hold all the power in labour negotiations.
1) The first is a career as a core professional in a traditional corporate or government style organisation. Although now and in the future, obtaining and retaining such a position will demand a huge effort.
2) Secondly, people who started on the professional path can reinvent themselves as portfolio workers or freelancers.
3) Then there are the group of people who will have few opportunities for ongoing full-time employment the longer they live. These are the people whose best option is to tighten their belts and seek fulfillment outside of the workplace – a common theme during the great corporate downsizing of the 1990’s.
At the beginning of La La Land Mia has the ambition of becoming a core professional in the film industry. However, her reality is that after six years pursuing her acting ambitions in LA she is still working in a coffee shop and looking for fulfillment outside of that work. Seb’s position is more complex. He is a freelancer and portfolio musician. Although this role is what he has come to after losing the stake he had created to start his own Jazz Club. In my view, people running their own business have a career structure that is equivalent to core professionals. They have to make a huge effort to initiate and build their business, and depending on the competitiveness of their niche and how dynamic change is in their industry, often need to maintain high levels of professionalism to survive. In the early scenes of La La Land Seb still has the ambition to open his own club, he just hasn’t found a position that will help him progress that ambition.
In her attempts to break into a core professional role Mia uses a variation of the jobseekers two primary calling cards – the resume and the interview. In her case, the interviews are auditions for roles in the film and TV industry. She has submitted a resume of her career which directors and producers appraise alongside her audition performance.
Seb, acting as a freelancer or portfolio career model was finding gigs using his network. Either people he had worked for before, or people who knew of his reputation as an outstanding musician with a wide range of styles.
Local knowledge always matters
As an LA local, operating in a complimentary industry Seb had a good understanding of how the film and TV industry works. This is part of the reason why he is able to urge Mia to write and perform in her own show as a way to create the conditions she needs to break into the inner core of film and TV industry acting professionals – or at least garner a reputation to win enough work to be a legitimate jobbing actor aka portfolio or freelance career in the industry of her dreams.
Mia is from Boulder City and has very little understanding of the music industry. This helps her to urge Seb to take a role in a significant band. That role will pave the way for Seb to realise his dream. Like many specialist professionals who have reached a level or status within their field Seb needed to polish his soft skills in order to relaunch his career trajectory towards realising his ambition of opening his own club. His relationship with Mia was instrumental in allowing him to put himself in a position where he could start paying his dues again in someone else’s band. The career structure of Seb’s role in Keith’s band is as a core professional, and is a transition from the portfolio pattern he had been following up until he joined the band.
Mia’s self-written and performed one woman show was astoundingly successful. However, it did not look or feel like that to Mia, and she fled LA because measured against her criteria of success, it flopped big time. Seb knew the function of that performance was to create the conditions for breaking into the acting profession that Mia is keenly aware can provide her with career fulfillment. By that measure her one woman show was successful, and she was able to secure an audition in a role that was more in keeping with her strengths.
By the end of the film we are given to understand that Mia had converted her first big role into a career in the industry of her choice. In fact it appears she had become an inner core professional in the film industry. Seb had achieved his ambition and opened his own club. Both characters have realised their ambitions in the industry of their choice. The seem set to remain fulfilled, performing as core professionals for many years. In the process they are creating a body of work that may enable them to reinvent themselves again as freelancers or portfolio workers in the event of a significant change in their circumstances.
LA is a megacity with a hugely diverse economy, what La La Land helps us understand is that the idea of an inner core professional who stays employed for decades in that profession applies more broadly than to those professionals in corporate or senior government roles that still represent career success in mainstream media. In a city like Adelaide (population 1.2 million) many of those inner core professional roles occur in small medium sized businesses, state government departments and local government. Outside of government such roles demand a high level of commitment, and many jobs are in smaller sized private businesses. In many ways, this creates optimal conditions for portfolio careers. For many that means downsizing ambitions, especially in housing and international travel, but otherwise provides a lifestyle very in keeping with the sustainable low growth economy of South Australia.